Jim Lucy, Chief Editor

Times & Trends: Baby Steps Big and Small

June 1, 2015
Think distributors aren’t optimistic about the future? Wrong. This year’s Top 200 distributors are investing millions in their own companies.

One of my favorite movies is What About Bob?, a 1991 Bill Murray classic in which he plays a psychiatrist’s patient who has totally bought into that doctor’s “Baby Steps” theory of self-improvement. In the movie, Murray succeeds in building a better life, one small step at a time.

This year’s Top 200 distributors are also taking some major strides in self-improvement with what seems to be a far-reaching trend of internal investment. While analyzing the 150 responses to Electrical Wholesaling’s 2015 Top 200 survey, I was struck by how many of this year’s respondents are investing in their companies in many different ways big and small, despite the uncertain economic climate.

When people think of the big news in this industry, we often look first to the companies making headlines with big-name mergers and acquisitions. And while these multi-million dollar deals are indeed newsworthy, they overshadow other electrical distributors investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in new ERP systems, expanded warehouses, new branches and new employees.

You can’t downplay the impact these investments make in the business lives of those companies’ employees, customers and vendors, but also in the impact they make on local communities in  the form of new business and jobs for local providers of the capital equipment and services this expansion requires. Following is a sampling of some of the investments Top 200 distributors are making in their companies.

Building new branches. Alex Kepley, V.P., CBT Co., Cincinnati, says his company plans to start building a new headquarters later in 2015, while David Rosenstein, CEO, Connexion, Buffalo Grove, Ill., says his team will open a new branch and hire 10 more employees this year. At Echo Electric Supply, Council Bluffs, Iowa, John Franken, president, expects 10% growth in 2015 and says his company will be opening new facilities in Sioux City Iowa, and Fort Dodge Iowa.

Across the country, George Adams, president and CEO, Electric Supply Inc., Tampa, said his company opened a large warehouse addition in the third quarter 2014 and then upgraded much of the existing facility. Werner Electric, Cottage Grove, Minn., is in expansion mode, too. Ben Granley, president, says the company is now expanding its distribution center by 45,000 square feet, adding 15,000 square feet of new office space and adding new jobs.

Franklin Empire, Montreal, Quebec, is also in  growth mode, according to Cara Backman, marketing manager. She says the company will be hosting open houses to celebrate the first anniversary of its new and larger Ottawa facility, and the opening of  a new branch in Sept-Iles, Quebec.

Womack Electric Supply, Danville, Va., opened a facility, too. Says Burke Herring, company president. “We are engaged in the tool supply business in a big way and opened a tool service center,” he wrote in his Top 200 response.

Investing in new ERP systems and other computer software.  Quite a few distributors are investing in new software. Franklin Empire’s Backman said the company recently rebuilt its computer system and is in the final test stages before going live with it in a few months. The company also signed on with IDW.

Other Top 200 distributors investing in new software include Winkle Electric Co., Youngstown, Ohio, which recently purchased Tour de Force Enterprise Software CRM software; Forest Hills Electrical Supply Inc., Randolph, Mass., which bought a new xTuple ERP system; and Inline Electric Supply, Huntsville, Ala., now running a warehouse management system Latitude by Pathguide Technologies.

At Idlewood Electric Supply Inc., Highland Park, Ill., Karen Dolins, controller, said the company is  also investing in software and making other capital improvements. “Updating phone systems, added three new trucks in past year,” she said in her response. “Updating computer systems now that the recession is behind us. Doing all types of general improvements.”

It sure sounds like many of this year’s Top 200 electrical distributors are taking some big steps toward the most important investment they can ever make — their companies.